Welcome to the unlikely epicenter of one of the few booming sectors of the global aviation industry –dismantling, recycling and crushing of aircraft that are no longer needed by airlines with older, inefficient jets that cannot be filled or sold. WOLE SHADARE writes
Thirteen jets for boneyard Landing in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, one of the first things visitors see as they peer out of their airplane’s windows is the moss-covered metal carcasses of what used to fly in Africa’s most populous nation.
At least, 13 airplanes abandoned at the Lagos airport, which have continued to cause nuisance to safety and security across Nigeria, are being taken away to ‘graveyard’ waiting to be dismantled.
This action underlines some measures taken by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to rid the airports, particularly the Lagos airport, of anything that may cause disruption to safe flight operations.
Disused planes range from small jets to a Boeing 747.
Some of them are abandoned on the apron; a situation that portends danger to travelers.
FAAN waits on owners
Spokeswoman of FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, confirmed that the abandoned aircraft were to be taken to the ‘graveyard’ until the owners are ready to either take them away or dismantle them for other purposes.
None of them is serviceable because most of their owners have closed shop, unfortunately, such owners don’t want to evacuate them for reasons best known to them.
A source at FAAN told New Telegraph that some of the abandoned planes were seized for transporting smuggled goods.
They include a Boeing 737-200, impounded by the Nigerian Customs Service about eight years ago, he said.
There are about a dozen cargo and passenger planes, which workers call the “graveyard,” an overgrown field at the far north end of the runway at the airport, which is a major transport hub for West Africa.
The graveyard at Murtala Muhammed Airport, at the far north end of the runway where planes come in, is where the derelict planes serve as tombstones for those failed airlines.
Planes abandoned at other airports, including in the capital, Abuja, and the main northern city, Kano, are also waiting to be dismantled.
Planes sit at airports across the country, partly due to local regulations allowing airlines to park them for free at any airport they declare as their base of operations.
Some companies became insolvent and left planes still loaded with firstclass china service and large briefcases for captains containing flight manuals.
If the owners tarry from coming forward to remove them from the graveyard, they risk losing them to people who are hired to dismantle them.
An aircraft boneyard or aircraft graveyard is a storage area for aircraft that are retired from service.
Most aircraft at graveyards are either kept for storage or have their parts removed for reuse or resale and are then scrapped.
In Nigeria, aircraft graveyard is located on an expanse of land near cargo handling section of the Lagos airport.
Deserts, such as those in the Southwestern United States, are good locations for boneyards since the dry conditions reduce corrosion and the hard ground does not need to be paved.
The amount of money airlines invest into their aircraft is mind-boggling. A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner sells for $265 million. Current list price of a new Airbus A380 is $432.6 million. Emirates has over 75 Airbus A380s in its fleet, with more on order. By contrast, the world’s largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, cost $1.35 billion to build, about the same as three A380s.
So what happens to these aircraft when they reach their use-by date? The most profitable option for an airline looking to retire some of its fleet is selling the aircraft intact to another airline.
Many third-world airlines, operating in a less strictly regulated environment than that which applies in Europe and North America, are often ready buyers for aircraft at the end of their working life in regions where maintenance and safety protocols are more rigidly observed.
The next option is breaking them up for scrap. When an aircraft starts to rack up flying hours, maintaining its airworthiness becomes increasingly expensive.
At some stage, the airline will decide that it can make more by selling the aircraft than continuing to operate it.
Particularly for newer aircraft, there is a healthy demand for recycled parts and whatever is saleable will be stripped and sold. Jet engines, avionics, auxiliary power units and even seats all have potential value.
Items such as the winglets from a Boeing 737NG can fetch $650,000 on the second-hand market.
In Europe, where space is at a premium and there is nowhere to store aircraft outside in a stable, weather-proof environment, planes tend to be recycled and broken up far more quickly.
After all the valuable components have been removed whatever remains will be chopped into pieces and sold for scrap.
Even Australia has an aircraft graveyard. Located close to Alice Springs Airport, which was chosen for exactly the same reasons as the North American desert facilities, the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage facility received its first aircraft in mid-2014, with recent arrivals from the fleets of Qantas and Tigerair.
Military aircraft suffer a similar fate. In the US, retired military aircraft are usually shipped to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base located south of Tucson, Arizona, the world’s largest aircraft boneyard, home to around 4500 aircraft.
Some are dismantled and their parts carted, to be sold to foreign militaries in need of spares.
Others that still have a potential ongoing strategic role are mothballed in a state of high combat readiness, to be brought back into service if required.
Owen Geach, Commercial Director of the International Bureau of Aviation, an industry consultancy, said: “There is a range of aircraft, which are increasingly expensive to operate and, in the current economic circumstances, their owners are reaching the conclusion that more money can be made from parting them out rather than keeping them in the air.
“There is now a healthy underbelly of activity in the industry that is the recycling and dismantling sector.
Not so long ago, these were companies that just took a chainsaw to an airframe. Nowadays, it is a more sophisticated industry.”
With the aviation industry’s environmental image battered by its contribution to the emissions that cause global warming, it has spotted an opportunity that when it comes to ending the life of a passenger jet, its methods should be eco-friendly.
Boeing and Airbus have signed up to guidelines, which ensure that at least 70 per cent of every plane they have produced is recycled, with that proportion rising to more than 95 per cent as technology improves.
The phenomenon is part of a global shift in the aviation industry, which will see 12,500 passenger planes around the world reach the end of their useful life over the next 20 years.
That’s 400- plus aircraft a year to be recycled, stripped of their usable components and compacted into scrap metal.
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